Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Honey! Honey! Honey!

We're in the honey! We're in the honey! 
We've got a lot of what it takes to get along!

This is the tune (in Ginger Rogers' voice -- along with her completely creepy costume) that is running through my head today.

I've been impatiently waiting all summer for my honey to get to the 80% capped stage for awhile now. After what seems like an eternity, they were finally ready to harvest last week. Plus, the weather was nice, too, so I ordered a refractometer that someone had recommended and timed my harvest to coincide with my new toy's arrival.

I didn't necessarily look for combs that were 100% full.
This one is only partially full, but at least 80% of the cells that have nectar are capped.

I did a bit of shuffling of honey combs between hives in order to take the most fully capped bars. In the end, I got 10 bars -- 8 of which came from Hippolyte, a first year package and the meanest bees I've ever met!

A nice heavy bar of honey

With the exception, of Austeja, who hasn't recovered from her swarm yet, the bees look to be in good shape heading into winter. I haven't decided what to do with Austeja, though. She's got some brood, but almost no bees and only 2 bars of capped honey. My choices at this point are:
  1. Let her ride and see what happens, though I think winter will kill her, if I do.
  2. Take just the uncapped bars, which are pretty dehydrated, leave the capped honey, and hang some fondant.
  3. Take all the honey now and let her bees beg their way into the other hives.
I'm leaning toward 1 or 2 because I feel that where there's life, there's hope. If her bees go to the other hives, that just adds more mouths to feed at a time when they can't really find much. Also, she's been very swarmy all year, so I wouldn't be too chuffed if she didn't make it.

Doesn't that look delish???!!!

Sorry there aren't photos of the honey collecting process itself. I was working alone and wearing gloves. But basically, after brushing the bees off the comb, I put it into an empty nuc and covered it with a towel. Unfortunately, one of the combs (actually two combs) from Hippolyte were a really challenge because they were completely crossed. No matter how many bees I brushed, more bees kept pouring out from between the combs. Ultimately, I had to take the comb with the bees up to the house. By that time most of them had decided they weren't in Kansas anymore and had ventured out from between the comb. One more brushing of all the combs finally did the trick.

The crossed combs from Hippolyte

Another issue I didn't completely think through was how heavy the comb would be once the nuc was full. My nuc was completely full of bars, and even though only 10 of them were full of honey, I almost couldn't lift it. Fortunately, my kid's bike caught my eye, and I used that to roll the nuc uphill to the house.

The nuc I used to collect the bars. You can see my son's bike there. 
Speaking of rolling, for quite a while, a question that's been rolling around in my mind is "How much does a really full bar of honey from my hives weigh?" I cut three bars into a bucket, being careful to tare the weight for the bucket, and found that a good sized bar seems to average between about 4 to 4.5 lbs for me. However, the first bar was a really, really good bar, and the cut comb weighed 5lbs 7oz! The crossed comb bar from Hippolyte also weighed about 9 lbs.

Honey from one comb -- 4 cups, or about a liter for you metric people.

This info is useful because I finally know how many bars I need to leave for winter. 50 lbs is the number I shoot for because Lazutin recommends that in his book. (He's outside of Moscow, Zone 4. I'm in Zone 5, so I figure if that works for him, it should be more than ample for me.)  However, I haven't been sure exactly how many bars provided 50 lbs. I've been aiming for 15 bars because that's what Christy Hemenway in Maine recommends. I know her combs are smaller than mine, and her winter is worse, so again, 15 seemed like a good hedge. However, I now know that for my hives, I've been overestimating quite a bit. At 4.5 lbs per bar, 50 lbs works out to about 11 bars. In any case, I still plan to leave about 13 bars per hive since this winter is supposed to be terrible. I'd rather under-harvest than over-harvest.

Everyone gets a turn pressing honey.

Tasting honey. (BTW, my daughter came up with this "teenager outfit" on her own using some seamless headwraps.)

In the last couple of years, I've crushed and strained some comb using a potato masher and sieve. However, the straining process always gave me a bit of a heartache because there was so much honey that just didn't drain off the crushed comb. It seemed so wasteful. Of course, the bees got to clean the crushed comb, but I hate watching them kill each other over the scraps. Also, I wanted the honey!!! So this year, I thought I'd try a fruit press, which worked pretty well, but I'll write another post about that later.

Some more help. BTW, I've learned a useful lesson. When kids are involved, I need to cover the ENTIRE floor.

Unfortunately, the refractometer didn't come when it was expected. Apparently, Amazon 2-day shipping means it arrives in 2 days from the day the order was fulfilled. However, it can take a week to fulfill the order. Because I agonize over little things, I didn't want to bottle the honey before testing it, knowing that there was some uncapped honey mixed in. So I stored it in my honey bucket until the refractometer arrived.


Just in case the honey was too wet, I modified a trick that I picked up on FaceBook. I took a few boxes of Arm & Hammer Fridge & Freezer boxes of baking soda. Then I taped up all the edges and shook the boxes to make sure no baking soda could escape. The boxes went into a strainer that got placed that on the bucket. I covered it all with a lid and set a bucket of wheat on top of it all to keep it airtight. There was no need to worry, though. The refractometer arrived, and the moisture content tested a tiny bit under 17%. (Capped honey is about 17%-18% moisture. Bottled honey should be under 21% to ensure that it doesn't spoil.)

I didn't know how many boxes to use.
The guy used only one box, but he only had a tiny pot of honey.

Thought it was funny that the wheat bucket has the Honeyville logo on it.
That's where I want to live, though -- In Honeyville.

So here is a picture of most of my haul. There are a couple of bottles that didn't make it into the photo, and some cut comb in the fridge. Overall, though, I'm quite pleased. I just may make it to spring.

Lots of nice honey!

Here is a closeup so you can see the light coming through a bit. It's a dark amber. Just beautiful!


  1. Even at the height of the Depression, they were trying to make everyone believe that it was over. That is quite a creep costume!

    That's a good haul! What was the total in fluid ounces? I'll be interested to see a followup post on which jar size you think works best.

    It's great to see the kids getting in on the fun. I also found that they do move around a bit and I never have enough newspaper. And all the door handles are sticky! ;-) But it's worth it - how many kids ever get to do something like that!

    I use a paint strainer and let it drain for a couple of days which seems to get most of the honey out. I stir it around a couple of times to get the honey in the middle of the clump to the outside. I look forward to your post on using the fruit press - particularly to see if you think there is less waste than with the masher/sieve method.

    Have you thought about just physically combining Austeja with one of the other hives? It doesn't hurt to have extra honey in the other hives - you can always have another harvest in the spring!

  2. I don't know how many fluid oz I have, and I forgot to weigh the bucket when it was full of honey. If I count up the weight of all the jars, though, I estimate that I bottled about 36 lbs of honey, plus there was about 2 lbs of cut comb. Yum!

    LOL! So true about every handle in the house being sticky! And the floor!!!

    I did consider combining Austeja with another hive, and if it were still September, I'd definitely do that. However, right now, my concern is that I'd simply be giving that hive more mouths to feed and no resources to do it. Also, now that I have 7 hives, I'm hopeful that at least one of them will pull through winter, so I'm indulging a morbid curiosity to see how this late-season swarm will pan out. Even though they will likely perish, I'm kind of interested in observing the changes that it undergoes. (Its sounds awfully callous to admit this, but I feel like they wouldn't have swarmed if they didn't think they could make it. So I kind of want to see what happens.)

    Working on the post about the presser along with a few others. Hope to have it out this week or next. :-)

  3. Hurray! I cannot tell you how HAPPY I am to see you using the solid lids on your mason jars. It drives me ABSOLUTELY bonkers when I see people using the two-piece lids meant for jam and jelly making to jar up honey.A fellow beekeeper owed me a couple of jars of honey and, knowing my so-over-'em feeling towards mason jars, provided payment in Quattro Stagioni jars. They're my fave because a) they have solid lids but more importantly b) there's a skep stamped in the glass.

    1. Oooh! Quattro Stagioni jars are gorgeous! What a nice gift! My DH & I had a recent "date" that included some browsing at Sur la Table, and they had some on the shelf! I was so tempted to pick some up, but with 3 brand-new cases of Ball jars at home, decided against. Next year. ;-)

      Totally agree about the two-piece lids, though, which are for canning. The solid plastic lids are slightly more expensive, but their tidiness & ease of use more than make up for it.


Thank you for your comment! I can't wait to hear what you think!